Pabst Theater

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Pabst Theater
Pabst Theater (vintage).jpg
Vintage exterior view of the Pabst Theater
Address 144 E. Wells St.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
United States
Owner Pabst Theater Foundation
Capacity 1,339
Current use music venue
Opened 1895
Architect Otto Strack

Pabst Theater
Architectural style German Renaissance Revival, Late Victorian
NRHP Reference # 72000063[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP April 11, 1972
Designated NHL December 4, 1991[2]
Exterior view of the Pabst Theater

The Pabst Theater is an indoor concert venue and landmark of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. Colloquially known as "the Pabst", the theater hosts about 100 events per year. Built in 1895, it is the fourth-oldest continuously operating theater in the United States, and has presented such notables as pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, actor Laurence Olivier, and ballerina Anna Pavlova, as well as various current big-name musical acts.

The Pabst is known for its opulence as well as its role in German-American culture in Milwaukee. It is officially designated a City of Milwaukee Landmark and a State of Wisconsin Historical Site, and was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. [1] It is sometimes called the "Grande Olde Lady", being the oldest theater in Milwaukee's theater district.

The Pabst is a traditional proscenium stage theater with two balconies, for a total capacity of 1,345 people. It hosts approximately 100 events per year, including music, comedy, dance, opera, and theater events. [2] The theater also has a hydraulic orchestra pit, adding to its suitability for virtually any performing arts event. The auditorium itself is drum-shaped and is decorated in reds and maroons with gold and silver accents. A large, 2-ton Austrian crystal chandelier hangs over the auditorium. The theater also boasts a staircase crafted from white Italian Carrara marble and a proscenium arch highlighted in gold leaf, which frames the stage.


Brewer Frederick Pabst had built Das Neue Deutsche Stadt-Theater (The New German City Theater) in 1890 as a conversion of the Nunnemacher Grand Opera House, but it was destroyed by fire in January 1895. Pabst ordered it rebuilt at once, and it reopened as The Pabst Theater later in 1895.

The Pabst was designed by architect Otto Strack in the tradition of European opera houses and the German Renaissance Revival style. He made it one of the most fire-proof theaters of its day, as well as one of the most opulent.

The Pabst played an important role in the German American culture of early 20th century Milwaukee, when the city was called "Deutsch Athen" (German Athens). It was home to the German theater company for many years, but later began including performances from other nationalities.

The Pabst has undergone several renovations, the first of which was in 1928. In 1976, after a long decline, it was restored to its original style. In 1989, a colonnade was added to connect the theater to the Milwaukee Center. The latest renovations took place in 2000 after the theater's purchase by the Pabst Theater Foundation, started by Michael Cudahy; elevators were added, the ventilation system was modernized, more bathrooms were added, and some seats were replaced. The theater also added Cudahy’s Irish Pub to the lobby.

As the Pabst Theater was designed after the best German Opera Houses, the acoustics are outstanding.

Technological innovations[edit]

Otto Strack employed many technological innovations when designing the theater, including one of the country's first fire curtains, all-electrical illumination, and a very early air conditioning system which employed fans and large amounts of ice. The theater also contained an electric organ, an innovation at that time. The theater is believed the first to employ a counterweight system for hoisting scenery, which was installed after World War I and remains in use today.


The Pabst Theater has the names of 15 notable artists inscribed about the cornice of the drum-shaped auditorium: Ibsen, Wagner, Molière, Aristotle, Michelangelo, Dante, Aeschylus, Thespis, Homer, Raphael, Shakespeare, Garrick, Beethoven, Goethe, and renovator Bernard O. Gruenke of Conrad Schmitt Studios.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Staff (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Pabst Theater". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°02′28″N 87°54′38″W / 43.0411°N 87.91068°W / 43.0411; -87.91068